Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative – August 2011

August 30, 2011
posted in: 

By Peter Bardaglio, Senior Fellow, Second Nature

Welcome to the August 2011 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, a monthly update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Climate Showcase Community Projects Move Forward

EcoVillage at Ithaca celebrates its 20th anniversary next month.

As we all know, Tompkins County has taken a bold stance on climate change by committing itself to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with an interim goal of 20% reduction by 2020. But how does a community get from a vision to the reality of a sustainable future?

One strategy the county is using to reach these goals is teaming up with the internationally acclaimed, local EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) to establish the county as a national exemplar of smart growth and sustainable development.

Tompkins County is one of 49 communities from across the United States to be chosen by the EPA as a recipient of a Climate Showcase Communities grant. The aim of the EPA program is to “create replicable models of cost-effective and persistent greenhouse gas reductions that will catalyze broader local and tribal government actions to stabilize the climate and improve environmental, economic, health, and social conditions.”

The county hopes to build on and expand the successes of EVI’s approach to sustainable community design by updating and establishing a set of EVI’s best practices, which can then be disseminated to other communities. The County Planning Department will also be developing new building codes and zoning policies to encourage the sort of efficient and environmentally-conscious design exemplified by EVI.

Perhaps the most exciting, cutting-edge, and visionary part of the County and EVI’s plan is the construction of three pilot sustainable communities based on EVI’s smart growth principles. The first pilot is known as TREE, and its housing units will not only be more than 80% more energy efficient than the average American household, but there will also be greater availability of affordable units. The County and EVI are hoping that the TREE residences will be Passive House, LEED, and Energy Star Certified.

The second community is the Aurora Dwelling Circle (ADC), which will have 5-8 households on just one urban lot. Housing units at the ADC will emit 80% less greenhouse gases than the average American household and the development will also be within walking distance of downtown Ithaca. A third sustainable development pilot village will be established on county-owned land. The County will incentivize the development of one or two dense neighborhoods, each containing between 37 and 45 household units, and with easy access to community amenities and public transportation.

The energy efficiency, emissions, and building performance of the three pilot communities will be monitored by the County and EVI. They will also reach out to planners, local governments, architects, educators, developers, and community members through educational workshops, professional conferences, and webinars so that other communities can replicate, adapt or build on the County’s example.

So where does the progress of these ambitious and exciting projects stand in the first six months of the Climate Showcase Communities grant?

The biggest challenge so far has been getting enough people to sign on to live in the two communities getting off the ground this summer, TREE and the Aurora Dwelling Circle. Although there are many attractive aspects to living in a sustainable community development and many Ithacans are enthusiastic about smart growth, the state of the economy is making it difficult to secure a critical mass of potential residents.

Considerable progress has been made in other areas, however, in just six short months. Grant contracts, timeline, goals, tasks and milestones were established for the first year. The Planning Department’s Ed Marx and EVI’s Liz Walker attended an EPA conference for Climate Showcase Community grantees in Colorado in May.

The grant and planned projects have received considerable media coverage throughout the county. Extensive data on both current and past energy and resource usage in EVI has been gathered and organized, and a report containing EVI’s guiding principles and best practices has been completed. Also, zoning ordinances are being drafted by the County for urban infill and village nodal development projects.

County and EVI staff have already presented on the Climate Showcase Communities project at twelve different events or conferences, reaching over six hundred people, not only in Ithaca, but also in New England, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Keep your eyes open for further events, as well as the soon-to-be launched project website!

Hannah Foster
TCCPI Summer Intern

Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, September 29, 2011
9 to 11 am
Borg Warner Room
Tompkins County Public Library
101 East Green Street
Ithaca, NY 14850

Other Climate Protection Initiatives in Upstate NY

Tompkins County is not the only area of upstate New York that is paying attention to and taking action on climate change. Take a look at what our regional counterparts are doing to meet the challenge of climate change. It is this sort of community-driven initiative and leadership that we need across the country in the absence of federal action.


Albany has been one of the leaders in the upstate climate protection movement.

In 2005, Albany’s mayor signed theU.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement. Albany became a member of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability in 2007 and the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation’sClimate Smart Communities Programin 2009. The mayor signed a comprehensive executive order that same year in order to formally establish a comprehensive sustainability agenda for the state capital. Albany then completed its greenhouse gas inventory and established a Mayor’s Office of Energy and Sustainability as well as an associated Sustainability Working Group. In July 2011, the City released Albany 2030, a community development road map that makes sustainability a core component of its vision and planning. Albany is currently working on its climate action and adaptation plan and has a number of climate-related initiatives in the works.

Binghamton became a signatory to the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement in 2007 and joined ICLEI in 2009. The city completed a greenhouse gas inventory in 2006 and will soon set an emissions reduction target and develop a climate action plan to reach this target. The city has already installed solar panels on its water treatment plant, and Binghamton University, a signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment(ACUPCC), has drafted its own climate action plan. The City of Binghamton is also partnering with local agencies to implement an energy efficiency outreach program inspired by theEnergy Leadership Program of the Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Next month: Rochester and Syracuse

One last thing:

Twenty years: that’s how long EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) has been on West Hill, providing inspiration to all who seek to build a more sustainable future. Lots of people talk about sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint, but at EVI it actually happens. Thanks in no small part to the leadership of Liz Walker, co-founder and executive director of EVI, this remarkable community is thriving as it begins its third decade.

There is lots to celebrate with the arrival of EVI’s 20th anniversary next month: the EPA Climate Showcase Community grant, the newly installed 50 KW solar array that provides enough electricity for an entire neighborhood, and the groundbreaking for a third neighborhood, TREE. EVi is certainly not resting on its laurels.

Be sure to come out for the celebration on Saturday, September 17 from 1 to 4 pm. There are lots of fun activities planned, including a scavenger hunt, live music, a crafts sale, and plenty of U-pick raspberries. Hope to see you there!

Add new comment